Customer Relationship Management
Whenever a customer establishes contact with a business, through a call center or any other medium of communication, the business has a unique opportunity to create a favorable opinion in the customer’s mind. This favorable opinion will eventually lead to increased customer retention and more business. A good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution is critical to keeping customer interactions fluid, meaningful, and friction free.
A lot of small and medium businesses do not currently have formal CRM systems. Many of them are still using manual methods to manage an ongoing relationship with their customers. Studies show that less than 25 percent of small and medium companies use formal CRM software. This represents a great opportunity. Businesses that switch to using CRM systems, and even integrate their CRM systems with their call center or their social media accounts, stand a good chance of differentiating themselves in the eyes of their customers. Read more.
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CRM Buyer's Guide
Considering that a CRM solution is a strategic asset for any business, much thought and effort is invested into the selection process. Essentially, this consists of four important phases in the selection process. These are:
- A clear definition of needs
- Decisions on the technology and the requirement of support
- Budgeting and hosting decisions
- And finally, solution selection
Define Your Business Needs
Businesses that plan to acquire new CRM software need to look at themselves closely so as to figure out what their pain points are. Typical problems could be:
- High churn rates in customers
- Difficulties in meeting growth targets
- Challenges in getting new business
Once business needs are understood with clarity, companies can begin to scan the solution space for appropriate solutions.
Ad-Hoc Solutions will Not Keep Pace
Less than 25% SMEs use a formal CRM solution. Other methods that are popularly in use are:
- spreadsheets (31%)
- paper-based methods (22%)
- email-based methods (13%)
- use of proprietary and other industry-specific software (12%)
Most of these are ad-hoc methods of work and they will not be able to keep pace with growing numbers of customers and multiple channels of communication. Even companies that use proprietary solutions will find that these solutions will not interface with other enterprise class systems. This can be a critical shortcoming.
Key CRM Features
While CRM needs may vary somewhat with industry, there are certain features that are critical to most implementations. These are:
- Lead generation, lead follow up
- Ease of use and integration with other applications
- Ease of remote access to support mobile and work-at-home users
- Customer support (for the CRM) via multiple channels to support mobile users
- Tightly integrated analytical capabilities to analyze and optimize campaigns, target groups and strategies
- Capability to manage multiple campaigns
- Good data management capabilities to support contact list segmentation and handling in real time
- Ease of customization and flexibility in use
CRM: Budgeting & Hosting
In many ways budget and hosting decisions go together. Traditionally, CRM solutions were hosted in a company server. This meant buying the solution outright and is often referred to as an ‘on-premise’ solution. There were hardware costs as well. This meant substantial upfront costs which many businesses in the early part of of their lifecycle could not afford. This was also responsible for large numbers of SMBs using archaic methods of keeping track of customers.
Larger companies may still prefer an on-premise solution because it gives them better control over the software. They can customize it to their requirements (at a cost) and because it helps them overcome security concerns. Such companies generally have specialized IT staff that can handle all tasks associated with running the CRM and its database.
In the last few years, the data center and cloud based applications have emerged. Vendors now maintain a CRM solution in the Internet cloud (Software as a Service or SaaS) and users can take the required number of licenses. This model is based on a monthly payment and there is no expenditure on procuring software, servers, network components etc. Any PC / device that is connected to the Internet can be used. Costs can be a few hundred dollars a month. With this model businesses can use CRMs much earlier in their lifecycles. This is often referred to as a ‘hosted’ model because someone else is doing the hosting.
A hosted solution works best if the business needs a standard CRM solution that does not need to be customized considerably. The uptimes guaranteed by a hosting service are generally far better than what in-house systems can achieve. Besides, since they are accessed over the Internet, users can log in from anywhere. This helps support mobile workers and in disaster recovery. If office premises are not available due to any reason, users can log in from any other location with Internet access. Obviously, a hosted solution supports home based workers as well.
If you are a small business looking out for an affordable CRM solution, we strongly recommend going the hosted route.
Selecting a CRM Solution
If the business requirements were defined with clarity then it should be easy to determine a feature list. Most features you want must be connected to the problems you wanted to solve in the first place while the rest could be best practices designed to take the business forward.
Even after you have created a feature list grid and shortlisted vendors and solutions, there may be several choices. It is recommended that the following may also be considered before making a final selection -
- Vendor profile and customer list. Visit a customer if possible and see the solution in action if they permit. The vendor may be able to tie that up.
- Check the vendor’s experience in the field.
- Check out local partners the vendor may have appointed.
- Ask for a trial with the kind of data your business uses. Let actual users interact with the system and take their responses on the work flow, user interface, learning curve, etc.
- Check training needs and how the vendor proposes to meet them.
- Ask for references.
Starting the solution search by understanding business needs may seem like an obvious thing to do, but many managers get fixated on the feature list and assume that the features listed will meet the requirements of the people who will work with the CRM daily. While most solutions will have a large percent of features any business needs, only a detailed trial and demo can bring out details of the true capability of the solution and its compatibility with the business.
A careful and deliberate CRM selection process will ensure your business gets the best out of the CRM solution.